Poland: Justyna Gotkowska

DGAP asked leading European experts on foreign policy about Germany’s role in providing nuclear deterrence in Europe. These experts, who each represent an EU member or a key partner, responded to three open-ended questions. You can read the introduction to this assessment and download the whole report by clicking here.

Question 1

How does your government view the importance of nuclear deterrence and NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement for its own security and European security?

Active participant in shaping NATO's nuclear deterrence

Justyna Gotkowska, Centre for Eastern Studies, Poland

Nuclear deterrence, together with conventional deterrence, is perceived by Poland as a key element of NATO’s policy. This is valid especially after Russian annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine. But even before, Poland was aware of the importance of NATO’s nuclear deterrence due to Russia signaling its readiness to use nuclear weapons in the Zapad military exercises (in 2009 against Poland and in 2013 against Sweden). The nuclear sharing program, together with the US conventional military presence in Europe, are seen as a key US commitment to European security, and constitute the foundation of Poland’s security. Since 2014 Polish F-16s have escorted allied DCA in NATO’s nuclear exercises.

Poland’s National Security Strategy published in May 2020 points to “an increased likelihood of tactical nuclear weapons being used in a classical military operation.” According to the Strategy Poland aims to “participate actively in shaping the policy of nuclear deterrence of NATO.” 


Question 2

In the view of your government: What difference does Germany’s participation in nuclear sharing make? (Why) is Germany important in nuclear sharing?

Decreased credibility of NATO's deterrence—especially on its eastern flank

Justyna Gotkowska, Centre for Eastern Studies, Poland

Germany is the largest European ally. Its participation in the nuclear sharing program backs the credibility of NATO’s nuclear deterrence and shows the strength of the US-European military alliance. Berlin’s withdrawal from the program, together with the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany, would be perceived by Russia as a sign of a serious US-European disengagement, and would decrease the credibility of both nuclear and conventional deterrence in Europe, especially on NATO’s eastern flank.

Question 3

What would be the plausible/probable effects within NATO and for European security, if Germany were to leave nuclear sharing?

The straw that breaks the back of European nuclear sharing?

Justyna Gotkowska, Centre for Eastern Studies, Poland

A German withdrawal from the nuclear sharing program would have a shock effect in NATO. On the one hand, it might lead to similar reactions from other allies participating in the arrangements, such as Belgium or the Netherlands. Under certain circumstances it might end the nuclear sharing program altogether, leading to a decreased level of deterrence in Europe.

On the other hand, it would open a discussion about a reform of nuclear sharing. This will put eastern-flank countries under pressure. Poland will see the need to preserve the arrangements by, for example, including new allies in the program and/or discussing the need to change NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe in order to adjust it to the challenge of the dual-capable land-based missile system deployed by Russia, that was the reason for the termination of the INF Treaty. This might lead to deepening intra-European and US-European rifts, and decrease the cohesion of NATO. The eastern flank will feel an increased exposure to the possibility of Russia “testing” the weakened solidarity among the allies.


About the author

Program Coordinator, Regional Security Programme, Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW)

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